Malcolm Gladwell clashes with staffers at podcast startup over diversity

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By Dan Sears

Malcolm Gladwell had a tense exchange with staffers over diversity at the money-losing podcasting startup that he co-founded with his business partner, according to a report.

Gladwell — the Canadian-Jamaican bestselling author of hit books such as “The Tipping Point” and “Outliers” — has reportedly been at loggerheads with close friend Jacob Weisberg over strategy and finance at Pushkin Industries, the audio content company that recently laid off dozens of staffers.

In July, Gladwell was grilled by Pushkin staffers at an all-hands meeting about the lack of diversity among the company’s leadership.

Gladwell reportedly provoked the staffers when he lamented the fact that there weren’t enough Republicans employed by the company.

His comments were reported by The Daily Beast’s Confider newsletter, which obtained audio of the July 12 meeting.

“My definition of diversity might be different from other people, but that’s part of diversity — allowing Malcolm to have a different definition of diversity than everyone else,” he told staffers, who were visibly uncomfortable over the tone of his remarks, according to Confider.

Malcolm Gladwell butted heads with employees over diversity at his money-losing podcasting startup, according to a report.
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“Here’s a question: If you’re a Republican, raise your hand,” Gladwell reportedly told staffers.

When nobody raised their hand, Gladwell reportedly said: “I would think that a diverse company should have some Republicans in it.”

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When irked staffers noted that there wasn’t enough diversity within the management structure, Gladwell, who is half black, told staffers in response: “Hello, I don’t count?”

Pushkin Industries was founded in 2018 by Gladwell and Weisberg. It was created with financial backing from Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of former Apple boss Steve Jobs, and the chair of Snap Inc. Michael Lynton.

Gladwell co-founded Pushkin Industries with former Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg.
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In September, Pushkin, laid off a third of its staff just weeks after executives told employees that they expected the company to return to profitability later this year.

According to Confider, Gladwell acknowledged to staffers that he and Weisberg “made mistakes” in helming the firm.

“I think we grew too fast. I think we lost sight of who we are and what we stand for,” Gladwell told staffers.

“I think we got a little blinded by some of the hype and craziness in our industry over the last couple of years.”

Pushkin and other content giants such as Spotify and Sony have cut costs due to losses in their podcasting divisions as advertising dollars have dried up in a market hamstrung by increasingly fragmented audiences.

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The image above shows Weisberg (far left), Gladwell (center), and “True Detective” executive producer Richard Brown.
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“I don’t think we took our financial crisis seriously enough back in January when we had the first round of layoffs and we regret all of that profoundly and sincerely,” Gladwell told staffers.

The star author reportedly told staffers that his role at the company was “vague.”

Sources told Confider that Gladwell has been “increasingly frustrated” with how Weisberg, a media veteran who once helmed the news site Slate, has run the business.

Weisberg was criticized within the company for failing to make a sufficiently strong offer to former “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who spurned Pushkin in favor of rival Lemonada Media.

Louis-Dreyfus, 62, hosts “Wiser Than Me,” a 10-part series in which she interviews women who are older than she is.

Weisberg told Confider that he made a “significant offer” to the former “Seinfeld” star.

Gladwell also acknowledged that he has been largely sidelined in the day-to-day management of the company’s affairs, according to Confider.

“I’m a co-founder of this company,” Gladwell told staffers in July.

According to a report, Pushkin Industries employees were frustrated by the company’s inability to land Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ podcast.
AFP via Getty Images

“Jacob gave me the fancy title of president but I’m not an employee and I’m never going to be involved in the day-to-day decision making,” he said.

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Weisberg told Confider that Gladwell’s role “hasn’t changed.”

“It’s been a tough year at Pushkin and for podcasting, but we’re friends for life, close collaborators, and fully aligned about the company,” Weisberg told Confider.

Heather Fain, Pushkin’s chief operating officer, told staffers in July that Gladwell does” creative consulting on pods and the audiobooks side.”

“He’s always coming up with new ideas for people to run through and chase down,” Fain told staffers.

“He is really, really active in generating and securing advertising interest for our shows… Nobody works harder than he does. That guy is working all the time.”

The Post has sought comment from Pushkin Industries, Gladwell, Louis-Dreyfus, Lemonada, and Weisberg.

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